Recently I received what was simply the latest in a string of inquiries/accusations about my views on the place of God’s law in the life of the Christian. I am thankful for this on a couple of levels: First of all, I’m thankful that people actually do care about theology. This is a great good. I am also thankful that there are people who, for the sake of the church and out of love for me, have taken time and ginned up the courage to actually ask me about my beliefs, rather than just simply writing me off or accepting an accusation as truth. So…if you’re interested in this at all, thank you.
For those who don’t know, antinomianism has been historically defined as the belief that “the believer is free from the obligation to observe the law.” (Berkhof, pg. 543) To put a finer point on it, the antinomian believes that he/she is completely released from what we Reformed folks would call the third use of the Law. The third use, according to the Heidelberg catechism, is that we Christians are to live our lives, “thankful to God for His blessing, and that He be glorified through us…”. The third use shows Christians how to live in gratitude for their many gifts in Christ. When it comes to our standing before God, we are completely forgiven and completely righteous–by faith alone. But because of that standing and in no way to earn merit before Him since all merit has already been bestowed freely, we are to live lives that demonstrate our gratitude to Him. This is the third use of the law. I wholeheartedly affirm it.
Historically, the antinomian would be a person who would say that Christians are under no obligation to seek to obey the law of God (the third use). I do not believe this. I am not an antinomian. Antinomianism is a heresy. It is a serious charge to bring against anyone. In times past, a woman like me would likely have been burned at the stake if I had espoused such views. I have never said, nor would I ever say, that Christians are free to ignore the law. I would invite anyone who is concerned about the purity of the church and who would call me a sister in Christ, to demonstrate this charge by pointing at something I have written (there are 20 books out there) or said publicly (there are loads of YouTube videos to watch). If you are concerned about obedience to God’s law, then please consider this,
“And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness” (2 Tim 2:24).
Please correct me if you think I am sliding into heresy, otherwise stop making this accusation. If this person is so concerned that God’s Law be obeyed, let him (or her) obey it himself. Antinomianism is a serious charge. It is a disciplinable charge. It would place me outside the faith. If people are concerned that I have fallen from the faith, don’t they, in response to the Word and the Spirit, have an obligation to come to me personally? It is as uncharitable to brand me as an antinomian because I seek to comfort weary sinners with grace as it would be to call my accusers nomists because I might think that they over-emphasize the law. Nomism and antinomianism are serious accusations. May we not make them without great care and without an overabundance of proof.
What I am guilty of doing, and over and over again, and what I pray I will never stop doing, is to seek to comfort guilty Christians (primarily women) who know that they sin, who hate their sin, and who are struggling against it. I have told them that Christ’s perfect forgiveness and record of obedience is theirs, by faith alone, in Christ alone, even (and especially) when they fail. This is what it means to be justified, as the Westminster Shorter Catechism states in Q 33:
What is justification? Justification is an act of God’s free grace, wherein he pardoneth all our sins, and accepteth us a righteous in his sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone. (See Rom 4:4-8, 11; 2 Cor 5:19, 21; Gal 2:16; Phil 3:9).
I have told them that the Law: “Love God with your whole heart, soul, mind and strength and your neighbor as yourself,” continues to stand as God’s command to them 24/7/365 and that they can rejoice and should continue to strive to walk in grateful obedience to it because Christ has already fulfilled it perfectly for them. (See Heidelberg #62, 86, 91; WSC #35; WLC #75) That is not antinomianism. It is the gospel. Antinomianism seems to be the charge that is made against any person who preaches the sweetness of the gospel to Christians and who doesn’t end every message (whether in print or audio) with a “Do more, try harder” injunction. I am not an antinomian but I do relish the sweetness of the good news–a good news sadly missing from many Christians’ experience. My emphasis is not on whether or not Christians should seek to obey God’s law. Of course they should. That question has been answered and the answer has been part of the church’s definition of orthodoxy for hundreds of years.
My concern is to discern how Christians are motivated to obey. I do care about obedience. But I must ask whether burdened, weary, sin-sick, guilty Christians are motivated to obey the Law by hearing it over and over again or are they motivated to obey by hearing that God still loves them, still forgives and welcomes them, and that they can, by faith in His constant welcome, get up and try again even if they’ve blown it (again)? I believe the latter. It is the gospel itself that is the “power of God for salvation” not only at the beginning of our walk of faith but also all throughout it (1 Cor 15:1-2). Would I tell sister caught in sin that she needs to obey? Of course. Would I tell her specifically what she should do? Of course, as far as Scripture would allow. But would I also assure her that even though she may try and fail numerous times that God’s disposition to her is one of a loving shepherd who welcomes sinners and that she can put off her sin because everything has already been granted freely to her in Christ.
It is the good news of what has already been accomplished for us by Christ that engenders within the heart of the believer the love that is necessary for obedience. It is the good news, the gospel itself, that empowers us to change; it liberates us, it transforms our affections; makes us love God and enables us to say “no” to every other lover, because the love he’s given is so sweet, so glorious, so all-encompassing.
On the other hand, obedience performed out of a desire to earn something/anything from God is not true obedience; it is obedience done for the self, to assure oneself, to merit God’s love. “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love” (Gal 5:6). Obedience must be fueled by love for God and in faith that he sees and welcomes us because of the work accomplished for us by the life, death, resurrection, ascension and intercession of our Savior.
I have been asked whether I have changed. Yes, I have. I no longer only teach the law. I also teach his Gospel. Since the Lord has given both the law and the gospel to the church, it is up to us who have opportunity to speak, to speak them both: Law and Gospel. It is interesting to me that in the days in which I wrote and spoke primarily about the Law no one ever accused me of being a heretic; no one ever called me a nomist (or semi-pelagian). IMO that’s because hearing the law appeals to us while hearing the gospel messes with our pride. Just IMO.
So, thank you. Thank you for reading this whole thing. It’s a lot, I know. And thank you, that when you hear a sister or brother in Christ being charged with a heresy, that you actually investigate the charge and tell the one who would bring such a charge to demonstrate his charges before he spreads them.
Thank you for reading it.